THE Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) is lobbying government to amend the Marriage Act and the Customary Marriage Act to curb marriages of people below the age of 18 years.
The campaign follows reported increase in cases of children being married at 16 years.
According to a 2012 survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the country’s prevalence of child marriages stood at 31% and Zimbabwe was among 41 nations with the highest rates of child marriages.
In a statement, ZWLA said: “ZWLA is concerned that the government has not prioritised the alignment of the marriage laws with the new Constitution so as to provide for equal treatment of children under the marriage laws, be they civil or customary and for the prohibition of the marriage of every boy and girl below the age of 18 years.
“ZWLA, therefore, urges the government to immediately amend the Marriage Act and the Customary Marriage Act so as to affirm the age of marriage under civil and customary law is 18 years.”
The Marriage Act (chapter 5:11) under the old Constitution provides that a girl between the age of 16 and 18 may, with the joint consent of her mother and father enter into a civil marriage under the Marriage Act. The Marriage Act prohibits the marriage of girl children below the age of 16 years. The Marriage Act does not, however, permit a boy below the age of 18 years to contract a marriage.
ZWLA said the government should educate traditional and religious leaders and the general public about the harmful effects of child marriages and to abolish the provision in the Marriage Act that presently allows girls under the age of 16 and boys under the age of 18 to be married under the Marriages Act with the written consent of the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.
“The new Constitution recognises the fact that marriage is an important institution which should not be entered into by vulnerable children whose level of physical and emotional maturity demands parental care and protection, and not to be prematurely burdened with the rigours and responsibilities of marriage,” ZWLA said. “The new Constitution further entrenches the right of every boy and girl below the age of 18 years to be treated equally before the law.”
ZWLA, however, said the government should also implement policies and measures that would ensure the prosecution of legal guardians who marry-off children below the legal age of marriage.